Friday, October 30, 2009

The Last Days of Animal Man

Despite having perpetrated one of the most egregious creative missteps in the history of the super-hero genre, the disbanding of the original Justice League of America and the introduction of the so-called "Detroit League" made up of new and second tier characters, Gerry Conway remains one of my favorite comics writers. In my not so humble opinion, his run on The Amazing Spider-Man is second only to Stan the Man's seminal stand. Thus, his name on the cover of a comic book, marking a triumphant return to the sequential arts after more than a decade toiling in the vast wasteland of television, is a most welcome sight, and The Last Days of Animal Man may be his best comics work yet.

It seems at first that we've seen this story a few dozen times before, at the very least. After all, we've all read tales of super-heroes who lose their powers. These stories always involve the hero questing to regain his powers while at the same time attempting to find a way to save the world or defeat the mad scientist or beat back the alien invasion without them. Inevitably, of course, the hero regains his powers and the series goes merrily on as if the whole thing never happened. The early 90's Superman tale "Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite" is a prime example, following the template almost exactly.
However, while it contains certain similarities to the archetype as described above, Last Days of Animal Man eventually reveals itself to be another animal entirely. In this case, the loss of Buddy Baker's powers is not the result of a nefarious scheme by his archenemy or a freak accident, but simply a natural consequence of his growing older, and Last Days is a story about a man coming to terms with both the inevitable process of aging and the consequences of the way he has lived his life.
Conway is, it goes without saying, no Grant Morrison, nor does he want to be. Unlike the wildly experimental stories of Morrison and those who followed him on Animal Man's ongoing series in the late 80's and 90's, Conway's story is very conventional, even, in the words of another on-line reviewer, "old-fashioned," though in dealing with the themes that he chooses to in the story, it's just as ground breaking as those wilder epics. We've never really seen a super-hero dealing with the problems of growing older before, and the fact that Buddy has a wife and kids, and is, in fact, perhaps the only super-hero with anything approaching a "normal" family life, means that whatever choices he makes, and those he has made in the course of his career as a super-hero, affect not only him but those he cares most about as well.
By the way, I should mention that this series is set fifteen years in the future, and part of the fun is seeing not only how Buddy's life has turned out, but Conway's take on the future selves of other familiar heroes which include a whale as Earth's Green Lantern.
The art, by penciler Chris Batista and inkers Dave Meikis and Wayne Faucher (on issues 5 and 6), is quite good, combining solid story telling with classic comic book realism in the figures and environments. I've never seen Batista's art before, but I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more. Visual continuity with the old Animal Man series is provided by cover artist Brian Bolland, who did most of that series' covers, turning in his usual beautiful work. The cover of issue #1 is a riff on the image from the cover of the first Animal Man #1.
All in all, I'd recommend picking this up, either in individual issue form or in the inevitable trade paperback. At least I hope this gets collected, because it deserves better than to disappear after its brief run.

Mom and Craig

So, it turns out that my mom and acclaimed comics artist P. Craig Russell share the same birthday--that being today, October 30.
The big difference is that P. Craig Russell is not expecting a telephone call from me today, whereas the last time I saw her, Hazel P. Tomczak made it quite clear that she most definitely is.
So, I gotta run.
More Later.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Point of No Return

For years, nay, decades now, those of us who read and create comics have struggled against the perception of comics as merely the province of illiterate juveniles and have striven to bring some respectability to the downtrodden art form, and in this first decade of the new millenium, it seems as if our quixotic efforts have born fruit. Comics are finally getting some degree of respect as a medium and an art form.
Still, I have to ask myself if it hasn't maybe gone a little too far when National Public Radio's web-site actually has its own full time comics blogger.

First Post

Welcome to "Gutter Talk", my new blog.
Let's start by defining our terms, shall we?
In comics, the term "gutter" refers to the space between the panels.
This is a blog about comics; anyone expecting me to talk dirty to them will have to call me and we can do that in private.

Herein, I shall be writing about whatever the hell is on my mind, at least as it relates to comics. That shall include, but not necessarily be limited to, comic books, comic strips, graphic novels, web-comics, movies and TV shows based on comics, books about comics, and just about any topic remotely related to comics. I'll be talking about current comics that I read, old comics that I love (or hate) and why, as well as the comics that I and my friends create. As I said before, pretty much any damned thing that pops into my head--whenever it pops into my head, so don't expect a regular schedule of updates. I may have a lot to say some weeks, or nothing to say for a couple of weeks. I maintained a daily blog for awhile, but the strain of coming up with something to write every day eventually led me to give it up. Here, while I shall try to post often, I'll try to make sure that I have something interesting to say when I do.